A recent story out of Pennsylvania made headlines when police revealed that a couple from aptly named Freedom, PA were both arrested for driving drunk in the same car, at the same time, on the same night. How, you might be asking did they accomplish this feat? Police say it’s because the couple switched seats shortly after being pulled over.
Records say that the couple, 33-year-old man and 24-year-old woman, face drunk driving charges relating to their July 4th traffic stop. News reports indicate that when police tried to pull the driver over for swerving down the road, he quickly pulled into a nearby parking lot where he and the woman were observed switching seats. Police say it was the woman who was behind the wheel when they approached the car and both occupants smelled of alcohol. Police said that later tests revealed that both had BAC levels above the legal limit.
Though it’s hard to imagine, this kind of double DUI incident is not as rare as it ought to be. Last year two men from Illinois were charged with DUI after deputies watched them trade seats during a traffic stop. Later tests indicated that both the original driver and the passenger were intoxicated so the swap only succeeded in increasing their criminal charges.
Just last month the Miami Herald reported on the case of two sisters who were simultaneously arrested for DUI. As the sisters were being pulled over the two swapped seats in plain view of the arresting officer and his in-car camera. One sister was found to have a BAC of 0.127 while the other came in at 0.129. Though the second sister never actually drove the car, she only sat in the driver’s seat, this did not prevent her from being slapped with the same DUI charge as her sister.
Many people might wonder how it is that the second drivers, the ones who agreed to swap seats, could be charged with drunk driving. After all, no actual driving ever took place. In the case of the Florida, Illinois and Pennsylvania drivers, the second “driver” only sat behind the wheel, never once hitting the accelerator. Could such an arrest happen in Minnesota? Unfortunately, yes.
Many don’t realize that in Minnesota it is possible to be arrested for drunk driving without ever having driving anywhere. Minnesota Statutes Section 169A.20 states that it is illegal “for any person to drive, operate, or be in physical control of any motor vehicle” while under the influence. It’s the last part, about being in “physical control” that can lead to trouble.
The Minnesota Supreme Court has made clear that if a person is found in a car, even if he or she was not driving at the time, that person can still be charged with a DWI. The Court has said in several rulings that “physical control” means more than simply driving a car and can be stretched to include cases where a person is located close enough to operate the controls of the vehicle.
If you’ve been drinking and are pulled over don’t try and swap seats with a passenger. This can only lead to further legal trouble for both of you. Instead, consult an experienced Minnesota DWI attorney who can advise you of your options and help create a plan for moving forward.